The bug whisperer

Kristin Ohlson, CRAFTSMANSHIP MAGAZINE

Mark Sturges doesn’t advertise and clients have to find him by word of mouth, but find him they do. He’s become a master of an agricultural art as old as agriculture itself: basic compost.

Mark Sturges handed me a pair of green plastic gloves to handle his compost, but had no qualms about plunging his own bare hands deep into one of his aluminum bins. He emerged with a dripping fistful of organic matter that would discomfit a squeamish person – say, the woman who owned the Air BnB home in Bandon, Oregon, where I stayed that night and who shrieked and shivered when I described the scene.

“Does your compost look like this?” the 67-year old Sturges asked me. No, I’ve never seen any compost that looked quite like his.

His compost reminded me of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the 16th Century Flemish artist who loved scenes teeming with humans and other creatures—eating, working, slaying, fornicating, sleeping, gossiping, squiggling their id all over the canvas. In Sturges’s cupped hands, there was the backdrop of what most of us think of when we think about compost—a crumbling, black mass resembling dark-roast coffee grounds—plus shreds of the materials that had gone into making it: eggshells, the paper-bag-like skin of a nearly dissolved pumpkin, carrot tops, and a pouf of potato salad from the town’s organic deli. More to the point, Sturges’s entire workforce was well represented in the handful. The dark mush was visibly alive with rove beetles, spiders, daddy longlegs, tiny white worms called enchytraedae that looked like lively fingernail parings, and the gray blemish of a fungus called beauvaria bassiani, which feeds on the beetles.

“These are the best workers in the world,” Sturges said with satisfaction. “They don’t have drug problems, they don’t beat their wives—although they might eat them, of course—and they work 24 hours a day. You just have to make sure you keep them alive.”

Read more at: The Bug Whisperer – Craftsmanship Magazine